by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

There are plenty of big dates on the football calendar each year at Boise State. Signing day. The beginning of spring practice. The end of spring practice (if you don't believe us, just ask the players about that one). The commencing of fall camp. The opening game. A likely key intersectional or two. Homecoming. And, as the Broncos have become accustomed for more than a decade, a bowl game (preferably a New Year’s or later battle in the BCS).

This year, however, add June 30 to the mix. We’ll tell you why in a moment.

There are some other important considerations as Boise State prepares for a 2012 campaign unlike any other in recent years in the Idaho state capital. First, the Broncos are going to be without Kellen Moore (left) at QB for the first time since the 2007 season. Second, Boise has to replace a gaggle of key starters, many of whom being the final installment of a recruiting class for the ages that included QB Moore and inked after the landmark and thrill-packed 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma in the January 1, 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Third, the Broncos are preparing to leave the Mountain West just two seasons after bolting the WAC, slated to join the Big East for football-only duties next season.

Or are they?

Let’s stop there for a moment, and circle back to that June 30 date we mentioned above.

Why is June 30 an important day in Bronco Nation? Because that’s the deadline day for the school to officially withdraw from the Mountain West effective next year. And, as of the start day of summer (June 20), the Broncos, unlike fellow Big East recruit San Diego State, had yet to inform the Mountain West of their official intent to withdraw from the league. The school is looking at extra exit and penalty fees from the Mountain West in excess of $5 million if it leaves the league for the Big East in 2013 without providing a one-year notice. Which leaves only a bit more time for Boise to mull over the proposed conference switch that has enough other ramifications outside of football to cause school administrators some pause before actually pulling the ripcord and parachuting out of the Mountain West.

Much like San Diego State, Boise’s intentions to align with the Big East were nothing more than a blatant money grab for enhanced football riches that would accompany membership in a BCS league. But since the Broncos (and Aztecs) announced last year of their plans to transfer, enough developments have arisen to cause Boise, in particular, reason to pause.

The Broncos’ predicament is a bit different from San Diego State’s because the Aztecs were able to immediately find a home for their non-football sports with the Big West, a collection of California schools that is the offspring of the old PCAA to which the Aztecs once belonged from 1969-78. Hawaii, which is aligning with the Mountain West in football this season, has a similar arrangement with the Big West for its non-football sports, sweetening the pie by offering travel subsidies to teams trekking to the islands.

Boise, however, instead aligned itself with the WAC, thanks in part to conference commissioner Karl Benson, a Bronco alum. But the WAC began to splinter after New Year’s, with most of the remaining members (Utah State, San Jose State, and new members Texas State and UT-San Antonio) scrambling to abandon ship. As did Benson, who left the league in March to become the new commish of the Sun Belt.

The WAC has since become a temporary placeholder for those bolting schools in the 2012-13 season before the league likely disintegrates a year from now. Which is hardly the best scenario for Boise’s non-football sports.

(UPDATE: Boise indeed beat the MW-imposed deadline, announcing on June 30 its withdrawal from the Mountain, effective next year. Negotiations are reported to be resuming with the Big West to house the Broncos in non-football sports.)

Of course, football is the big revenue driver for the Bronco athletic department, but the thought of being homeless for other sports is becoming a very uncomfortable issue for Boise. The Big West and even the Big Sky, each former homes of BSU sports, have already told the Broncos’ brass that they are not interested in their membership (the Sky, however, would reportedly welcome Boise’s sister school, Moscow-based University of Idaho, back into its fold with open arms).

Meanwhile, there are reports that Bronco AD Mark Coyle has asked the Big East for help in finding Boise a basketball-and-other-sports conference home. As well as lobbying San Diego State to put in its two-cents worth to the Big West, insisting it reconsider adding the Broncos as a member.

Not the sort of mess that Boise envisioned when making that blatant money grab on the football side. A delicious sort of irony, perhaps, with the ramifications of greed threatening to unravel the whole plan before it even gets implemented.

There’s another important angle to consider in the Boise-to-the-Big East football scenario. Indeed, the Broncos might not be walking into as much money as they first envisioned.

The college football world has also undergone a change since Boise announced its intentions to align with the Big East. With the BCS apparently on its last legs, and a four-team playoff likely on the immediate horizon, the Big East’s status as an elite league could be ready to change. With the possibility of no more automatic entry into one of the big-money bowls, the Big East (which has been weathering its own round of defections) might have trouble commanding similar TV dollars into the future.

There is some confusion among the ranks whether the Big East actually walked away from a reported $14 million per school TV deal with ESPN, to commence in 2014, in order to open up the bidding on its product, or whether ESPN, mindful that the BCS might be on its last legs, was the one to bolt from the negotiating table with the Big East. The bottom line, however, is that beyond 2013-14, the Big East TV contract is in limbo, likely hinging upon where the conference lands, if it lands at all, in the new order of college football.

Boise and San Diego State can only be assured of a TV bump in the $4-5 million range for the 2013 season, the last under contract in the current Big East TV deal. After that, no one is really sure what kind of TV dollars the Big East will command.

Boise, of course, is keenly interested in the details, so much so that one of our Mountain West sources has told us that Bronco AD Coyle has been making calls and looking for an independent TV consultant who can better apprise him of the TV money situation that the execs at NBC Sports or CBS College Sports, whose reports seem hard to trust.

In other words, Coyle and Boise are under the gun and have no interest in the apparent baloney being fed to them by network TV execs who continue to paint a far rosier picture than what might actually be happening on the Big East TV front. And most sources are convinced that the Bronco connections are having some serious misgivings about their Big East plans and need more-specific TV money info before making their decision about re-enlisting with the Mountain West (which would welcome back Boise with open arms) or actually taking the jump into the potentially-icy Big East waters.

The possibility remains that future Mountain West TV dollars might be fairly comparable to the reconfigured Big East if the latter is indeed out of the successor plan (whatever that might be) to the BCS.

In that case, maybe the Broncos are just better off staying where they are in the Mountain West. Rest assured we will be hearing more about these developments sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, we have football to worry about on the blue carpet, where Boise’s unprecedented string of recent success (50-3 straight up for HC Chris Petersen , shown at right, since Kellen Moore’s redshirt frosh season of 2008) could be challenged this fall with a reconstruction job more suited to Ulysses S. Grant after graduation claimed 13 starters from Petersen’s 12-1 team from a year ago that missed a third BCS bid in six seasons only because of a 1-point home loss to TCU in early November.

Still, Petersen’s roster has a veteran look with 26 seniors in the fold. Moreover, many of the new starters (especially those on the defensive side) saw considerable action in lineup rotations and platooning situations a year ago. Heading into this fall, the Broncos are not quite as green as they might appear at first glance.

The absence of Moore, college football’s all-time winningest QB, is hard to measure, such were his intangibles. And replicating last season’s offensive potency (44 ppg, fifth in the nation) looks a bit far-fetched for the Moore-less strike force. But it’s worth noting that the Broncos have hardly skipped a beat when replacing the past winning QBs such as Jared Zabransky and Ryan Dinwiddie, with their last three first-year QBs combining for a 33-2 regular-season record. The winning habit at Boise can no longer be underestimated...the Broncos have been succeeding, and spectacularly so, for too long.

Moore’s caddy for the past two seasons, 6'1 jr. Joe Southwick (left), solidified his status in April as the heir apparent at QB with a succession of impressive showings in scrimmaging and finally the spring game for the Broncos. While replicating Moore’s deft touch is likely beyond Southwick, his mobility is superior to Moore’s and, if spring play-calling is to be trusted, Petersen and new o.c. Robert Price (last year’s WR coach who was promoted after predecessor Brent Pease was hired by Florida) will not hesitate to let Southwick handle all of the trick plays at their disposal.

Highly-regarded incoming frosh Nick Patti, a dangerous scrambler, was considered by some as a threat to win the QB derby, as was soph Grant Hedrick, but spring developments confirmed that the job will be Southwick’s until further notice.

The Broncos had a school-record five players taken in last April’s NFL Draft including slashing RB Doug Martin, a first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Bucs after rampaging for almost 1300 YR and 18 TDs a year ago. But as long as sr. D.J. Harper (right, last November vs. TCU; 5.4 ypc in his career) is beyond his recent knee problems, Boise’s infantry is unlikely to suffer much, if any, dropoff. Nine offensive lineman have starting experience, and four full-time starters from a year ago are back in the fold. Star LT Nate Potter (Arizona Cardinals draftee) could be missed, but there’s talk in the Mountain that jr. RT Charles (Jay) Leno Jr. could be rated even more highly, as some say he could be the best Bronco offensive lineman since Ryan Clady, now a mainstay with the Broncos of the NFL Denver variety.

Southwick will also have some established receiving targets on hand, led by productive WR Matt Miller (left), an underneath, possession specialist who tied for the team lead with 62 catches a year ago, and five other contributors from 2011. One of those, rangy 6'4 Dutch import Geraldo Boldewijn, has hinted at breakthroughs the past two seasons, and regional sources suspect he could emerge as a dangerous homerun threat this fall. Junior TE Gabe Linehan has also suggested at lots of upside and caught five TD passes a year ago.

Though many believe it was Moore who made the receivers look good the past few years, many insiders suggest it will be the other way around this fall, wherein the wideouts make Southwick look good.

The recent Achilles Heel of the offense, however, has been the kicking game, which dates back to normally-reliable Kyle Brtozman hooking two makeable attempts in the 2010 reg.-season finale loss at Nevada that kept the Broncos out of the BCS. Brotzman’s successors couldn’t even hint at competence a year ago, as Dan Goodale and Michael Frisina could combine for only six made field goals all season, with none longer than 32 yards.

Many regional observers suggested that Brotzman-like lightning was likely to strike twice for Boise, and that if the Broncos were to be denied a BCS berth again last season it would likely be the fault of the kicking game as had been the case the previous November in Reno. Sure enough, then-frosh Goodale wasn’t close on a 39-yard try in the final seconds that would have prevented Boise’s lone loss last season, a 36-35 heartbreaker vs. TCU. And spring developments hardly suggested that Petersen has figured out a way to solve those kicking woes.

Meanwhile, Petersen and d.c. Pete Kwiatkowski are going to test the “returning starter” angle on defense after nine first-stringers departed after last year’s 12-1 mark that concluded with a 56-24 romp past Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Do not, however, assume that the platoon is inexperienced, with several stop unit charges having seen extensive work in reserve roles last season.

While the “O” gets most of the headlines, in fact the Bronco stop units have also been consistently among the nation’s highest-ranked in recent years, with 2011 no exception when ranking a solid 12th in scoring defense (18.69 ppg) and a respectable 18th in overall “D” (321 ypg).

Many of the platoon’s new faces are on the DL where an all-new front starting four readies for the August 31 opener at Michigan State. Despite lack of starting experience, optimism is high with a pair of thick 300-pounders, sr. Michael Atkinson and jr. Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, finally getting their chances to shine. An impact newcomer could be high-pressure juco DE Demarcus Lawrence, who bypassed Tennessee and Kansas State for Boise and enjoyed a highlight-reel spring.

If there is one area of the platoon where depth appears to be an issue, it’s at the LB spots, where sr. weakside backer J.C. Percy (right) is the only returning starter. A couple of touted frosh, Ben Weaver and Christopher Santini, might be good enough to compete for playing time with a collection of redshirts whom observers believe might just need a chance to get on the field and show their stuff. But it’s the secondary that seemed to be drawing the most raves in spring, which despite four new starters still boasts of considerable experience in the Broncos’ 4-2-5 looks. Senior CB Jamar Taylor has started the past two seasons, and some believe the combo of Taylor and sr. Jernell Givins on the flanks could become one of the premier shutdown CB tandems in the country. Soph safeties Jeremy Ioane and Lee Hightower are a pair of vicious hitters who impressed when getting the chance a year ago, while nickel back Dextrell Simmons made a smooth transition from the juco ranks last fall.

The Broncos’ schedule is front-loaded, with the likely toughest teats in the first month of the season. Like Boise, opening foe Michigan State is also breaking in a new QB after the accomplished Kirk Cousins moved to the NFL. After MSU, dates at home vs. BYU and two weeks later at Southern Miss should be indicators if the Broncos might be up to another BCS run (while that format still exists, that is). Which cannot be summarily dismissed from a program that hasn't won at least 10 games just one time since 2000. Last year's nemesis TCU has taken its act to the Big XII, and the Broncos, despite the graduation of Moore and all of the other starters from a year ago, are favored to win what might be their last trip around the Mountain West track.

Spread-wise, note that Boise’s decade long “blue carpet magic” finally ended a year ago as did any resemblance to past Broncos pointspread powerhouses. Oddsmakers had endured enough beatings from Boise, which was 40-19 as home chalk from 2000-2010 but was saddled with increasingly burdensome imposts a year ago when failing to cover all six of its games vs. the number at home. Expect more-reasonable prices this year after the departure of Kellen Moore and the perception (perhaps mistaken) that Boise might be in a rebuilding stage.

Summary...The Broncos have won too consistently over the past decade to suggest the program is going to drop very far after a slew of graduations following last season. After all, Chris Petersen has already cycled through six recruiting classes and the talent base doesn’t seem to be eroding after five Broncos were pegged in the recent NFL Draft. New QB Joe Southwick has enormous shoes to fill after Kellen Moore’s departure, but Petersen and predecessors Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins have all won big with different signal-callers, and regional sources say some of Boise’s recent reserves and redshirts are capable of continuing the program’s unmistakable momentum. Surviving the first five weeks without a blemish could even suggest another possible BCS run, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, at least until we see Southwick perform. The intrigue off of the field should be compelling stuff, too, as Mountain West insiders suggest the chances are probably close to 50/50 that the Broncos nix their upcoming Big East deal. We’ll know much more about those developments by the end of June. Stay tuned...


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